In September 1984, Miami-Dade police were assigned a strange case: An officer in his police car stood watch while three armed men burst into a woman’s home.
The men forced her, her teenage daughter and her infant son to the ground at gunpoint, then searched the place for money and drugs.
Detectives had little to go on, but found the officer they believed had stood watch. They fired him for being a “participant in a home invasion robbery.”
That officer is now the inspector general for the Florida Lottery, The Palm Beach Post has found.
Since 2006, Andy Mompeller has been the lottery’s top watchdog, responsible for holding the $5 billion state agency accountable and uncovering fraud, waste and abuse. Because they investigate and call out wrongdoing, inspectors general are held to the highest ethical standards.
A Post investigation revealed last month that for years lottery officials, including Mompeller, 55, have missed potential fraud among its winners. The investigation found some lottery winners might be winning too often, against astronomical odds.
The Miami-Dade police finding never stuck with Mompeller. He was never charged with a crime, and his firing was overturned on appeal. His record is clean.
Lottery officials say they’re aware of the police investigation and stand by him.
“Our IG was exonerated of any charges that were leveled against him,” Lottery Secretary Cynthia O’Connell said. “We support him and his efforts to protect our organization.”
Mompeller declined to comment for this story. Calls to his office were returned by Assistant Secretary David Bishop, who emphasized that Mompeller got his police job back and was awarded back pay. He resigned soon after.
“That doesn’t happen to people who commit crimes,” Bishop said.
But more than 500 pages of Miami-Dade police records obtained by The Post reveal that detectives, supervisors, the head of the police department and prosecutors were convinced that Mompeller participated in the home invasion robbery in 1984.
That’s evidence enough that Mompeller should never have been appointed inspector general, said former Florida Supreme Court Justice Gerald Kogan, who called the appointment “incredible.”
“The perception to the public is bad,” he said. “That’s the problem here. You have to tell the public, ‘Oh you can trust this guy, even though he was a suspect in a robbery using a police car.’
“It is not common sense to do that.”
Not enough ‘to charge him’
At least one former investigator, retired Miami-Dade police detective Joe Gross, is convinced that Mompeller played a role in the crime.
“We knew it was Mompeller, but we didn’t have enough to charge him,” he said recently.
Gross was tasked with investigating a string of home invasion robberies in 1984 and 1985. The suspects would claim to be police serving a search warrant to get in the door.
He eventually caught them, including the ones who stormed the woman’s house. Among those arrested: Miguel Vidal, another Miami-Dade officer, who was considered a ringleader in the string of robberies.
Vidal teamed up with gang members and others on the robberies. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for some of the crimes but not the September 1984 home invasion. The other two suspects who stormed the woman’s house went to prison.
But the cop who stood watch in the home invasion remained a mystery.
On the night of Sept. 4, 1984, a woman had just gotten home with her teenage daughter and infant son when someone rang the doorbell. Through the intercom, the man said he was a police sergeant and had a warrant to search her house, police records show.
She said he couldn’t come in and called her husband to ask what to do. Her husband told her not to let the man in and to call 911.
But after she hung up, the suspect told her to look out the window to prove they were police. She said she saw a police car and a man sitting in it.
She still wouldn’t open the door, but they threatened to shoot it down.
She opened up, and the suspects barged in, guns drawn.
The woman, her infant son and 15-year-old daughter were forced onto the floor at gunpoint while the men ransacked the house. They expected drugs and $200,000 in cash, but left with credit cards and $400.
While police scooped up suspects in the robbery spree, Gross wanted to find the officer who sat outside the woman’s house.
The woman and her daughter both said he was in a Miami-Dade police car, but they could say only that the officer was stocky and short-haired.
When Gross tried to pry his identity out of the other suspects, one cooperated.
Dick Fiallo was arrested in the robberies and talked to police in exchange for a one-year jail sentence.
While Fiallo didn’t participate in the September 1984 robbery, he was present when Vidal and the other suspects planned it.
He told police that he never met the uniformed officer who stood watch outside. But he was present when Vidal called that officer the day of the robbery, a call later verified by detectives. Fiallo said he was in another room when the officer showed up at Vidal’s house, and Vidal told the officer he needed his help during that night’s robbery.
Fiallo said Vidal told him a few other details about the mystery officer:
- The officer went to the police academy with Vidal.
- His name was “Artie or Ernie.”
- The officer was assigned to Station 5 during the robbery.
- A few months after the robbery, he was transferred to the organized crime bureau.
Fiallo passed a polygraph exam.
Police rejected alibi
Mompeller, 25 at the time, was the only officer who matched all of those details, investigators discovered.
Mompeller went to the police academy with Vidal, was assigned to Station 5, was the only officer from that station to be transferred to the organized crime bureau, and “Andy” sounded like “Artie or Ernie.”
And Mompeller had received a message from dispatchers to call “Mike” — “Miguel” in English — at Vidal’s home number at 4:23 p.m. the day of the robbery.
When detectives looked to see what Mompeller was doing the night of the robbery, they found evidence that made them more suspicious.
At that time, officers kept a worksheet documenting their activities for the night.
Mompeller had marked on his worksheet that he was conducting an “area check” at the time of the robbery. He was 20 minutes away — in another police department’s jurisdiction.
But Mompeller was never assigned to go there and never told dispatchers that he was there.
Moreover, his close friend and colleague, officer Anibal Mesa, edited his worksheet to show that he was at the same street corner at the exact same time for the same reason.
Yet neither officer could remember the other being there.
Three top-ranking police officials, believing one was lying, concluded: “Officer Mompeller falsified his worksheet in order to provide himself with an alibi.”
Fired but gets job back
Police took their case to prosecutors, who offered Mompeller immunity from prosecution if he testified against the other suspects in the home invasion and resigned from the department.
Mompeller refused, saying he wasn’t involved.
Prosecutors had a weak case, however. Nobody identified Mompeller at the scene of the robbery, and Fiallo’s testimony, although verified by detectives, was considered hearsay so they couldn’t use the leads he gave them.
Prosecutors decided they couldn’t prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, although “the circumstantial evidence … convincingly points to Mompeller.”
They “strongly” recommended police take the case to internal investigators.
The internal investigators, held to a lower standard than prosecutors, ruled that Mompeller did participate in the home invasion robbery, and the head of police signed off on his firing.
Director Fred Taylor wrote in a termination letter to Mompeller, “You knowingly participated in the house robbery.”
But when Mompeller appealed, a hearing examiner overturned the firing. The department could not use Fiallo’s hearsay evidence to fire Mompeller, he wrote.
Therefore, “there is simply no clear credible evidence showing that Petitioner (Mompeller) participated or is responsible for the alleged criminal offense,” the hearing examiner wrote.
Mompeller won his job back, with back pay. He resigned a few months later because “he wanted nothing to do with the police department after the railroad job the police department did on him,” said Bishop, the assistant lottery secretary.
Mompeller never worked as a cop again. His case was never publicized.
He worked as a private investigator for a few years, then as an investigator with the federal public defender’s office in Miami for 22 months, then again as a private investigator.
He began working for the Florida Lottery in 2000, when he beat out at least three other applicants to lead the lottery’s Miami district office, the largest in the state.
Then-Lottery Secretary David Griffin chose him based on his “impressive knowledge about marketing, sales, customer service, employee leadership and training issues,” lottery records show.
His resume cited his experience marketing his privating investigation firm to lawyers and the public and consulting with his family’s food company.
Bishop said the lottery was aware of the accusation against Mompeller when he applied for the job.
In 2006, then-Lottery Secretary Rebecca Dirden Mattingly appointed him inspector general.
The former detective, Gross, laughed when asked if Mompeller was just a young cop who didn’t know what he was getting into.
“You’ve got to work to get fired from the Miami-Dade Police Department,” he said. “You’ve got to work for it.”
Mompeller’s resume does not fit the mold of most inspectors general, who typically have squeaky-clean images and accounting degrees.
He would not have been qualified to be Palm Beach County’s inspector general, for example. That job requires at least 10 years of experience as an officer, judge, government attorney with investigating experience or an inspector general, plus a bachelor’s degree. Mompeller didn’t match that experience and didn’t have a degree.
The most recent evaluation included in his personnel file, in 2007, gave him a score that “meets expectations.” One former employee told The Post that he was “one of the best bosses I’ve ever had.”
One of the roles of his office is to conduct audits. Yet no audit in the last five years has used the lottery’s massive database to identify improbable and potentially fraudulent winners.
Other lotteries had found frequent winners were store clerks stealing tickets, “brokers” who cashed in tickets for people wanting to avoid debts and criminals using the lottery to launder money.
The lottery also doesn’t follow some of the industry’s best practices, including asking winners whether they own or work for stores that sell lottery tickets. Following The Post’s investigation, the lottery announced some changes, which included adopting software to track frequent winners and installing more self-checking machines at its outlets.
Kogan said it made no difference whether Mompeller was good at his job, or whether an arbitrator overturned the department’s decision — he wouldn’t have made Mompeller inspector general.
“What the arbitrator did is what the arbitrator did,” he said. “You don’t hire a guy who was removed from the police department in the manner in which this fellow was.”
Mompeller’s past shows that he was cleared of wrongdoing, and that’s how he should be judged, said Bob Jarvis, a Nova Southeastern law professor who specializes in ethics.
But it’s a fair question for lottery officials to wonder whether Mompeller’s past creates a perception problem, Jarvis said.
“That, I think, is a very reasonable question to ask,” he said. “Should anybody in a high-level position … have any kind of taint, even if unproven, because it undermines public confidence?”
To Bishop, there’s no question of confidence. “These are 30-year-old allegations. Mr. Mompeller was cleared by a hearing officer of any alleged wrongdoing,” he said. “Mr. Mompeller has undergone extensive criminal background checks.”
And the Florida Lottery, Bishop said, is committed to cracking down on fraud — with Mompeller leading the way.